Luke 8:4-8 (ESV)
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.
6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.
8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Luke 8:9-15 (ESV)
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’
11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Continuing on in our study of the parable of the sower, today we will study the seed which fell among the thorns. Jesus characterizes them as “those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Lk. 8:14). Matthew renders it this way: “The one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). Mark’s account describes the thorny soil as “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mk. 4:18-19).
Ask most of those who hold any sort of leadership position in a local congregation about their efforts to get the congregation as a whole involved in the work of the church, and it won’t be long before you’ll hear them make an observation that goes something like this: “Most of our volunteers, most of the ones who show up for whatever we need to be done for outreach, benevolence, teaching classes, and the like, are the same people, a minority of the congregation, a ‘core group’ that, give or take, makes up no more than about 20% of the congregation, and in many cases is less than that.”
Ask most preachers and Bible class teachers about their observations about those in their congregations who show a noticeable spiritual maturity and great knowledge of Scripture by their typical conversation, their comments in class (or lack thereof), and their actions, and you’ll probably hear something like this: “Quite a lot of the folks in the pews don’t have that much knowledge of the Bible, and most of them are not new converts. It’s been decades since their baptism.” You might also hear them say, “Try to talk to a lot of church members about biblical or spiritual matters, and it’s like pulling teeth. But start a conversation about their favorite sports team, or the latest political news, or what was on TV last night, and they’ll talk with enthusiasm about that stuff for hours.” You’ll probably hear this also: “A lot of the folks in the pews don’t really act that differently from people in the world. I hear them say the Lord’s name in vain and other vulgarities. If someone does them wrong, they’ll want to respond in kind. They’ll show love and kindness and compassion to their friends and family, but not to strangers or their enemies. A lot of them will gossip, backbite, and argue if they don’t get their way.”
Who are they describing? The ones who fell among the thorns. The thorny soil.
These are the ones who will obey the gospel…but afterwards they’ll grow very little spiritually, if at all. They’ll never share the gospel with anyone else in any way, whether it be teaching others or doing their part to bring the lost to someone who could teach them. They won’t really mature all that much in their Christian walk.
They might come to church sporadically, or they actually might come quite a lot…in body at least. But their mind and heart is somewhere far, far away (cf. Matt. 15:8). Again, ask any preacher or song leader if they ever notice anyone in the pews who just stares straight ahead instead of clearly paying attention during the sermon and singing along with the rest of the congregation during the song service. They’ll likely mention that they see several like that on a weekly basis.
These are the ones who will always remain on “the elementary level” of Christianity, the ones who will never be ready for spiritual meat and will respond to it usually in a negative way if exposed to it, the ones who will always need the spiritual milk but rarely if ever actually ingest it (cf. Heb. 5:11-6:2).
Why are they like this? Jesus tells us why in the parable.
The cares of the world make up one reason (cf. Lk. 12:29-32). When we care more about worldly matters than our relationship with God, we get easily distracted. We set our mind on the things below rather than on the things above (Col. 3:1-2). As a result, we don’t grow spiritually. Our fruit (Gal. 5:22-23; 2 Pet. 1:5-11) does not mature.
The deceitfulness of riches and what Mark called the desire for other things are another big reason (cf. 1 Tim. 6:9-10, 17). Don’t have time to study Scripture? Too busy to come to Wednesday night Bible class? Too tired to get up early on “your one day off” and come to church on Sunday? Could it be that the reason for that is because of all the hours you’re working so you can have, not just the necessities of life, but quite a lot of the luxuries also?
Along these lines, perhaps the biggest reason Jesus lists are the pleasures of life (cf. Gal. 5:17; 6;7-9). This really is the foundation on which the other two stand. Why put so much time and effort into making money to the point that you have no time for your Christian walk? Why care so much more about keeping up with the Joneses than you care about walking with God? It’s because such things can bring about results that, frankly, are fun! It’s fun to binge watch TV night after night instead of taking time to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word. It’s fun to spend every waking moment of your free time involved in either sinful pursuits or that which is inherently non-sinful and yet keeps you from growing spiritually because you give all of your time to it.
Want to know the big reason behind most, if not all, of the problems at your congregation, including perhaps its lack of growth both spirituality and evangelistically? It’s likely because a plurality or more of the members have hearts that are made up of thorny soil.
Can such people change? Yes, if they allow themselves to do so. It might take “hitting rock bottom” because of some tragedy or hardship like it did with the prodigal son, but it can happen. If and when it does, those of you who are spiritual should do your part to lovingly and patiently work with them and help them grow in the areas which need improvement (cf. Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).